SAINT PETERSBURG: A first Greenpeace activist was on a train out of Russia Thursday, more than three months after he was arrested along with 29 fellow crew members of a ship protesting against Arctic oil drilling, an AFP journalist saw.
Dmitri Litvinov, a Swedish-American of Russian origin, left Saint Petersburg for Finland's capital Helsinki on a train departing at 8:25 pm (1625 GMT) after Russia issued exit visas for 14 of the crew following a pardon by President Vladimir Putin.
Most of the activists who received visas are expected to leave Russia on Friday, according to a Greenpeace statement.
Russian authorities earlier dropped the criminal case against the last member of the 30-strong team, in a move widely seen as the Kremlin's attempt to improve Russia's image ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in February in its Black Sea city of Sochi.
Litvinov, the son of former Soviet dissident Pavel Litvinov and great-grandson of one of Stalin's foreign ministers, had received his exit visa allowing him to leave Russia earlier in the day.
He was to enter Finnish territory at 8:30 pm (1730 GMT), the Greenpeace statement said, and would then take a ferry to Stockholm.
Greenpeace said he had "no regrets" about the Arctic protest.
"I'm leaving Russia with mixed feelings," Litvinov told AFP before his departure.
"On one hand, I feel relieved that everything is over, on the other there is a feeling of injustice because we're considered criminals."
"The case against us has been dropped but things are not over," he added, expressing "concern for the others who live in Russia".
Litvinov was unsure whether he would ever be allowed to return to Russia.
Greenpeace now expects Russian investigators to return the equipment seized during the operation against its activists, as well as the Arctic Sunrise ship, which is still being held in the northwestern city of Murmansk.
Thirteen Greenpeace activists and a British video journalist have been issued transit visas allowing them to leave Russia and go home after their ordeal which began on September 19.
"Fourteen people have been given a visa," Greenpeace spokesman Arin de Hoog told AFP.
Activists showed off their passports stamped with transit visas to journalists outside the migration services offices in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second city, where they have been staying for over a month.
Italy's Christian d'Alessandro was notified Thursday by investigators that the case against him had been closed.
Earlier this week, Russia closed the cases of the other 29 Arctic Sunrise crew members. The crew includes four Russian activists whose criminal cases were dropped on Wednesday.
Russian coastguards boarded the ship on September 19 and had it towed to Murmansk.
The crew, which included two journalists, were accused of piracy and hooliganism, and spent almost two months in jail in and around Murmansk. In November, they were put on a train and moved to Saint Petersburg.
The charge of piracy, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, was eventually dropped, leaving the lesser accusation of hooliganism, which carries a punishment of up to seven years.
Putin has said the activists, several of whom attempted to scale energy giant Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Barents sea, broke the law and were seeking publicity but were "not pirates".
Several Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, had expressed concern over the activists' detention, and celebrities including former Beatle Paul McCartney had pressed for their release.
A UN maritime court in Germany also ruled in favour of a complaint lodged by the Netherlands and ordered Russia to release the crew and the Dutch-flagged ship, but Russia ignored the decision.